Individual Highlight>Water, Air, and Soil
Forest fungi perform an essential role in recycling woody plant debris and have many potential applications in biotechnology. In 2009, a Forest Products Laboratory chemist worked for ten months as a Senior Fulbright Awardee at the International Graduate School in Zittau, Germany. The research, conducted in collaboration the German scientists, dealt with a recently discovered and unusual enzyme secreted by Agrocybe aegerita, otherwise known as the edible black poplar mushroom. The results showed that this enzyme, known as a peroxygenase, degraded some ethers that have emerged as serious environmental pollutants. Notably, the peroxygenase oxidized dioxane and tetrahydrofuran, both of which are widespread groundwater contaminants. This work points out the importance of forest fungi as natural cleanup agents in the environment, and opens the possibility that their enzymes might be used to detoxify polluted water.